The era of Communism and the Iron Curtain presented many challenges for Open Doors in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The small staff, located mostly in Holland and a larger pool of volunteers had to work without computers and mobile devices. Meticulous planning preceded every trip. Staff teams traveled in pairs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (USSR) to meet Christian leaders, learn the needs of local churches and establish ways to deliver and distribute Bibles. Other teams followed in skillfully altered cars and vans to smuggle the desperately needed Scriptures.
Open Doors International executive recalls his first assignment to travel inside the USSR. Along with his veteran travel partner, he was briefed two weeks before they departed for Moscow. The briefing officer presented a meticulous day-by-day schedule, including: “Now, on the second evening, you are going to infiltrate this embassy” and she stated the country.
He started to laugh, but then noticed that his partner was writing down the information. “I really thought she was making a joke,” he admits. “Then I realized this is serious. It was as if I had stepped into a movie.”
This was before GPS systems and maps of Russian cities were notoriously unreliable. So for each of their twelve contacts the name, phone number, address and travel directions had to be memorized. It was also necessary to read signs in Cyrillic alphabet. Precise obedience to orders was necessary.
He still remembers the directions to his first appointment. After what seemed like 100 train switches, roads to follow and miles to go, they’d be there. The contact would then take his visitors to a safe location or write on a paper, without talking. The two-person teams also had to memorize the questions they would ask and they were different for each individual. One reason for traveling in pairs was to help each other remember all of the details.
This led them to the apartment of Brother Anatoli, a pastor from the underground church. The pastor had recently traveled nearly 4,000 miles to meet with church leaders. “The timing of your visit is really good,” he told his guests. “All of the churches are eager for Bibles.” He was assured that a team would make a delivery in three weeks.
As they left the apartment building, his partner whispered, “Isn’t it a shame that this brother spent two years in a labor camp for such a stupid reason?” He explained that two-and-a-half years earlier, two men from another mission in Sweden had visited the pastor. They were body-searched at the airport and one of the officials found a tiny, one-inch-long piece of paper with a phone number. It was the phone number of this pastor.
“That made a huge impression on me,” he says. “This man had spent two years in labor camp for that tiny mistake. I didn’t want such a thing ever to happen to anyone I was trying to help!”
Stay tuned next week for what happened next on their mission….